Miss Evelyn Poole, Professor Guthridge’s companion has doubts about her niece’s new fiancé.
The young woman rang the bell then peered through the frosted glass in the door’s small window to see a figure in red approaching.
“Why Mary this is a surprise!” said the figure upon opening it and releasing the smoky incense that issued from within.
Mary Brook curiously regarded her aunt who was clad only in a loose brightly coloured oriental robe. “Yes I bring exciting news Aunt Evie.”
Evelyn Poole, spotting her niece’s curious look explained. “I was practising meditation my dear, please go into the parlour while I put on something more appropriate.”
Mary wandered into the comfortably furnished room to sit in a large chair, while waiting for her favourite aunt she spotted a book on a low table and picking it up began to idly leaf through it, the tome was lavishly illustrated with depictions of…
“Oh!” the young woman exclaimed aloud, her eyes widening.
“It’s a translation of a treatise on Tantric Worship.” her aunt, now properly attired enlightened her.
“But Auntie surely you don’t indulge in such practises?”
“Mary you are yet to be twenty, you have much to learn.” replied Evelyn with a smile.
“I could never do such things!” her niece retorted.
Evelyn laughed lightly at this. “Now let us get back to your exciting news.”
Mary put the book down as if it would bite her. “Aunt Evie, I am once again engaged to be married.”
“That is indeed good news and something of a surprise may I ask who the lucky gentleman is?”
“Lord William Theddingworth, he proposed only the other day.”
“But I didn’t even know you were walking out with anyone?”
“I was reluctant to mention it after that business with poor John… after all he was the Professor’s favourite student.”
“Well it has been over a year now Mary and you are only human when all said and done.” Evelyn thought for a while. “I have heard of this man he’s older than you isn’t he, closer to my age I believe?”
“Love acknowledges no age limits Auntie and besides isn’t Professor Guthridge more than ten years older than you?” Mary referred to her aunt’s unconventional relationship with the respected Emeritus of St Aidan’s College.
“Touché Mary.” replied Evelyn lightly. “Of course I shall want to meet your suitor.”
“Naturally, father has already given his approval but I do value your opinion.”
My older brother is a poor judge of character and his wife is no better, thought Evelyn then aloud said. “Then you must arrange a meeting for me with your esteemed beau.”
“Lord William Theddingworth, I’ve never met the man myself? Do you know you there have been four Williams before him, each the son of the previous it’s assumed?”
“Assumed?” asked Evelyn, she was at the professor’s quarters in St Aidan’s sat on the rug before the hearth in a state of undress.
“Yes, the previous William disappeared while travelling in Europe then the present incumbent turned up a few years later to claim the estate.” replied the professor kissing her on the shoulder.
“Arnold is that not strange?”
“I suppose so my dear but it has been no real concern of mine before now.” he replied wearily, Evie had a bee in her bonnet about her niece’s fiancé.
“Well I will meet him soon and if he does not pass muster I will tell him so!”
Arnold Guthridge regarded her profile in the flickering firelight that was the only illumination, Evelyn was striking rather than beautiful, the youngest daughter of Sir Henry St John Poole and at thirty-five remained unmarried. Her father had been in the Diplomatic Corps and at the insistence of her mother, an avid disciple of Mary Wollstonecraft, they had taken their three children on their postings to the corners of the empire and employing tutors instead of sending them to boarding schools as was the fashion. Evelyn had developed a personal interest in all things esoteric finding a kindred spirit in the professor, who had seemed a confirmed bachelor before fate had brought them together.
“I fear for him should he not come up to your expectations.” he advised jocularly then asked. “Don’t we have another subject to pursue tonight?”
Evelyn smiled warmly. “Well I suppose Mary’s fiancé will keep for another day my love.” she picked up a familiar book. “Now, what page were we up to?”
So it was that a few days later Evelyn found herself at Pendleberry Hall the ancestral home of the Theddingworth family, she had done a little research into the family line using the well- known tome of the Peerage kept in St Aidan’s library, the family seemed quite unremarkable, the prevalence of the name William only coming into being a little over a hundred years previously with the first who travelled widely in Bohemia.
She had travelled up from Oxford with Mary and her parents, her brother Vivian who had a position in the Civil Service and his wife Cecilia. Her brother was genial and over trusting, not the dynamic man their father had been and his wife quiet and demure, was Evelyn’s diametric opposite. The aged butler opened the door and led them to his master who was stood by the fireplace in a study full of ancient weapons and taxidermy.
Lord Theddingworth introduced himself, greeting them all warmly and Evelyn could understand why Mary had been so smitten with him, he had an athletic physique, was handsome of face with sandy hair and a large handlebar moustache.
“And you can only be Aunt Evelyn.” said the lord kissing her outstretched hand rather than shaking it. “Why Mary’s description of you hardly does you credit.”
“Thank you sir, I believe flatter me unnecessarily.” she replied feeling somewhat warm inside.
“Nonsense, it seems all the ladies of this family are outstanding, though Mary is by far the loveliest. Please follow me to the main reception room which is more convivial and we will take tea.”
It had been a long journey which would necessitate an overnight stay and as the servants brought in the luggage they followed their host into the room. “Well, what do you think Auntie is he not just perfect?” asked Mary.
“I’ve only just met him dear, but I cannot argue that he is most handsome and charming.” she replied, too handsome, too charming?
Mary had met William only a month ago she had been invited with her parents to a fashionable soiree attended by the Prince of Wales himself, with of course the charming Mrs Keppel on his arm. Evelyn’s niece had been entranced by the good looks and polite manner of Lord William and when after a courting her for a month he had proposed she had accepted without a second’s hesitation. They spent the afternoon in pleasant conversation then after dinner he took them back to his study to show off his collection garnered from his travels, Evelyn with her worldly outlook found it most fascinating and questioned him over some the more outlandish idols and fetishes in his possession, Lord William was greatly impressed and complimented Evelyn greatly causing a small amount of chagrin in her niece.
The evening was rounded off by a round of Bridge with William and Mary versus Evelyn and Cecilia, Vivian was content to sit by the fire indulging in the lord’s brandy before they all retired to bed.
Evelyn lay awake in her room, there was something about Lord William’s manner she could not put a finger on he was too good to be true.
Something started her from her sleep and she sat up quickly to see the man himself stood by her bed. “What do you want?” she cried in alarm pulling the bedclothes up to cover her modesty for she believed it healthy to sleep au naturel.
“Evelyn, you are an incredible woman both in mind and body and I believe most experienced in life.” he appeared very handsome in the light of the candles lit by her bedside and Evelyn felt drawn into his eyes, she found herself imagining being with him in the most physical sense and letting the covers fall leaned forward to kiss him as he bent to her.
Their lips touched. “No!” she shouted coming to her senses, he grabbed her by the shoulders but she managed to rake her fingernails down his face leaving long bleeding scratches and snatched her trusty Webley from under the pillow as he recoiled, only for her to watch in horror as the scratches faded and disappeared.
He wiped the blood with his hand then addressed her. “Evelyn I meant you no harm.” she cocked the revolver pointing it at his face. “Go ahead and pull the trigger, I assure you it will not end my sorry existence but it will doubtless wake everyone in the house.”
“What in God’s name are you?” she asked keeping the pistol aimed straight at him.
“You are an erudite woman I’m sure you must be familiar with the word vampyr?”
“I have read Le Fanu and Stoker, are you telling me you are one of these creatures.” replied Evelyn covering herself once again.
“Not a vampyr no, but over a hundred years ago while travelling in Moldavia I encountered a wise old scholar of the arcane, the man offered to sell me an amount of powdered vampyr blood which would guarantee life eternal to any who consumed it, I scoffed at him of course but he bade me stab him with a knife to prove it. I refused as any gentleman would, so he cut his own arm severely then I watched as it healed. I of course bought the blood and took some of it and I have lived for these long years never aging, never ill. I can mesmerise people like a vampyr but neither daylight nor garlic trouble me.”
“That would explain why you have to disappear and return as your son, you cannot be seen to live forever.” exclaimed Evelyn.
“I was right you are a most intelligent woman.”
“Why did you propose to Mary and then try to seduce me?”
“I have lived over a hundred years and watched those who I cared for die while I cannot, I have trusted servants and money enough to indulge any vice but I am lonely Evelyn, I want someone to share eternity with, I believed Mary to be the one until I met you.”
“But how can that even possible without the vampyr blood?” she asked.
“I only took half of it there is enough left to grant eternal life to another, Evelyn I offer you the chance to live forever with me.”
Evelyn considered how it would be to spend eternity with this handsome wealthy man then thought of Arnold who in truth was her soulmate. “No I cannot accept your offer I love another and now I know about this you must tell Mary of your secret!”
“She already knows!” an angry voice came from the shadows in the corridor.
The pair both turned to see a figure stood there holding a candlestick. “Oh God, Mary how much of that did you hear?” asked her Aunt.
“Most of it!” replied the girl…
As Evelyn boarded the train back to Oxford she turned to her niece who had come to see her off, her parents having remained at their prospective son-in-law’s mansion, to ask. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing Mary?”
“Yes Auntie and for your information it’s too late to ask me that question, I went back to William’s room that very night and he made a drink of the foul tasting stuff for me.” she flushed. “And we did something else too.”
“Something you said you could never do?”
“Yes! Oh dear, will your professor write of this in his blessed journal?”
“Don’t worry Mary, I shan’t let him.” her aunt assured her.
“Talking of books, if you could find a copy of that Tantricky thing?” asked Mary.
Evelyn laughed. “I’ll send to you it as a wedding present.”
©Kyt Wright 2019